U.S. women share Israel connections

More than 300 Jewish women attended the annual Jewish Women's Renaissance Project Leadership Conference held last week in College Park. Photo by Daniel Schere
More than 300 Jewish women attended the annual Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project Leadership Conference held last week in College Park.
Photo by Daniel Schere

The best way to teach children about the complexities of Israel is to look at the big picture and explain that it lies in an unstable region of the world surrounded by conflict, an Israeli educator told a Washington audience Monday.

“Israel is an excuse for me to teach critical-thinking skills,” said Zeev Ben-Shachar, director of Israel education Jerusalem U, a nonprofit that teaches young Jews about Israel through film. “If you want to understand Israel you have to be able to zoom out. If we zoom out we can see the predicament of other minority groups. Look at Christians in the Middle East and see that their numbers are dwindling down.”

Ben-Shachar was one of the speakers at the three-day Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project’s annual leadership organization, attended by more than 300 Jewish women from nine countries and held at the College Park Marriott Hotel and Conference Center.

“Just as we make films, anti-Israel activists make films,” Ben-Shahar said.


He then screened a music video called “Freedom for Palestine” that was promoted by the band Coldplay.

Ben-Shachar showed a chart of countries and the perception of them internationally done about 10 years ago. Israel was at the bottom with a 56 percent unfavorable rating.

Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project was started by eight women in 2008 to help Jewish women around the globe connect with their heritage by sending them on weeklong trips to Israel.

The conference focused on how members and former trip participants can bring their experience to their home communities.

Randi Sadugor of Rockville, a 2015 trip participant, said she had a zenlike experience in Israel when she was in the northern city of Sfat and realized that it was “OK to take time for yourself and prepare for your week or your night.” The trip inspired her to become more active with the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, she said.

One of the more emotional moments took place Tuesday.

Rachel Fraenkel, whose son Naftali was one of three Israeli teenagers kidnapped and killed by Hamas terrorists in 2014, spoke by satellite to the conference.

“For me, unity is feeling connected and remembering we are an extended family,” said Fraenkel, who received a Pamela Claman Leadership Awards from the organization. “In a family, you don’t have to like everyone all the time. Liking is a very personal choice, but love is different. Love is about commitment and responsibility, knowing I would do anything for you and remembering that deep down inside we are family, we are connected.”

Fraenkel is a frequent speaker on Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project trips. In an interview with Washington Jewish Week, she said she usually speaks toward the end of the trip and can tell the women are at an emotional high.

“The one thing that’s really extraordinary is that these are people in the middle of their lives that have families. It’s not some kind of blank slate,” she said.

Two years after her son’s death, Fraenkel said she still hurts, but is doing all she can to stay positive.

“The doors and the windows are wide open, and I try to keep perspectives with new experiences,” she said. “My mantra is that I can feel pain, I don’t have to become my pain. There are so many other colors and experiences.”

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